On Thursday, businessman and former presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg — who is worth $54.9 billion, according to Forbes — announced that his charitable organization, Bloomberg Philanthropies, has committed to giving $100 million to medical schools at four historically Black colleges and universities over the next four years.
The funds will be used to provide up to $100,000 in scholarships for medical students currently enrolled and receiving financial aid at Meharry Medical College, Howard University College of Medicine, Morehouse School of Medicine and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.
In an op-ed for CNN titled "To save Black lives, we need more Black doctors," Bloomberg explains that one reason Black Americans have suffered some of the highest death rates from Covid-19 is because of inequitable health care.
"Black patients overall have better outcomes when they are treated by Black doctors. A wealth of data supports this, including a recent study that found Black newborns treated by Black physicians had higher rates of survival," he writes. "Currently, Black people make up about 13% of the US population but, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, only 5% of practicing medical doctors. And while this disparity has been growing for years — especially among Black male doctors — the coronavirus threatens to make it far worse."
By reducing student debt burdens among these Black medical students, the billionaire says he hopes to increase the number of Black doctors, improve health outcomes among Black patients and help close the racial wealth gap.
The four schools were selected in part due to their high graduation rates among Black medical students and for their "proven track records of increasing economic and social mobility."
As generous as Bloomberg's latest gift may be, the total pales in comparison to some of the other charitable donations he has made to universities in the past.
Since graduating from Johns Hopkins University in 1964, Bloomberg has given over $3.35 billion to his alma mater, a combined total which is believed to be the largest philanthropic gift ever made to an American academic institution. Some critiqued the large gift, suggesting that it would have been better spent distributed among schools with greater needs.
To be sure, Bloomberg is far from being the only famous billionaire supporting HBCUs.
Earlier this year, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings announced that he and his wife would give $120 million divided between the United Negro College Fund, Spelman College and Morehouse College in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
"The amount of tragedy really did get us to focus and say, 'let's do something now that will be supportive of these great institutions and give people some sense of hope. This moment is not the first time that racism has reared its, you know, terribly ugly head," Hastings told CNBC. "We want to help draw attention to the HBCUs, to them being part of the solution for America, and for Black children to aspire to."
In 2019, Robert F. Smith, founder and CEO of private-equity firm Vista Equity Partners announced during a graduation speech at Morehouse College that he and his family would pay off the student loans of the school's roughly 400 graduating seniors — as well as loans taken out by students' parents and guardians — in a gift worth $34 million.
"The whole inspiration really comes from an ideological position around how do you liberate the human spirit. I don't think there's anything more beautiful than the liberated human spirit," Smith later told CNBC at the 50th World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "The most important thing that lifts people in their station in life is education, and we have to make it in a way that is affordable and effective."